Journalists of Listening: On the Social Construction of Knowledge through Music Critics in the Concert Halls of the Nineteenth Century

Since the creation of the modern concert, the musical listening experience in concert halls has been dependent on intermediaries who prepared the listening experience, reporting on it, interpreting it, and spreading news of such events. In the course of the nineteenth century, journalists advanced to become the people that most often fulfilled this function. They translated what was heard into language, thereby objectifying the listening experience and making it accessible to those who were not a part of a specific and temporally limited experience of listening. In this way, journalists were constructors of knowledge related to listening, and they created a framework for concertgoers. This knowledge, summarized and presented primarily in daily newspapers, contributed to the creation of a social and cultural dimension of listening in society. Moreover, this knowledge justified the existence of concerts. Conversely, it was the aim of the concert to make such listening experiences possible. Starting at the beginning of the twentieth century, a gradual scientification of this form of journalistic knowledge began to establish itself. Themes of commonplace journalistic discourse began to be translated into special disciplines of the musical sciences, such as musical psychology, musical analysis, and musical pedagogy. Because of this phenomenon, the once central importance of journalists vis-à-vis the listening experience at concerts began to dwindle.

This project is a continuation and an expansion of themes I dealt with in my dissertation. There, I was mainly concerned with the cultural history of concerts at the beginning of the twentieth century in Frankfurt. With this project, I now turn to the question of how journalistic discourse became one of the structural conditions with regard to how knowledge about musical listening is construed in the public sphere. The project pursues several questions at once: what constituted this journalistic knowledge? What interests did the journalists themselves pursue? What journalistic tools did they use to capture the phenomenon of hearing? What kinds of boundaries did they create between visible and invisible, objective and subjective, etc.? What types of people were these journalists, and what preexisting knowledge might they have brought with them? This project does not concern itself with listening in and of itself: rather, my main interest lies in the structural conditions of such listening. The project investigates these questions on the basis of journalistic sources selected from the history of journalism that are representative of the beginning of music journalism all the way up to its heyday in the beginning of the twentieth century (e.g., Börne, Heine, Hanslick, and Bekker). At the same time, the journalists will be placed into their respective historical contexts with regard to historical anthropology in order to research the development of the journalistic construction of knowledge.